This last week the press was abuzz with the news that the Miss America pageant was no longer going to be a beauty contest. The pageant announced it was doing away with both the swimsuit and evening gown portions of the competition. Gretchen Carlson, the Chairman of the Board of Directors made it clear that women who wished to compete for the title of Miss America would no longer be scored on their appearance. “We’re not going to judge you on your appearance because we are interested in what makes you you," Carlson said.
The move was hailed as part of the positive cultural change brought about by the #metoo movement, the widespread uprising against the harassment and abuse of women. Ms. Carlson referenced this when she said, “Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.” Commentators called the changes long overdue, with the Dallas News going so far as to say, “As long as Miss America requires contestants to look good in an evening gown while strutting in high-heeled dress shoes, it’s unlikely women in the United States will achieve gender equity.”
The reports were characterized by a sense of celebration, recognition of a positive societal evolution. There was a sense that the days of women being objectified were numbered, that women were now going to define for themselves feminine ideals. Miss America was showing the way, first by getting rid of misogynistic leaders and filling the organization's board with female leaders, and now by making sure that contestants would not be subjected to body shaming or leering audiences.
The changes in Miss America dominated the news this week were significant, but were not the most important story impacting the rights of women in America. The biggest news came from a minimally reported public opinion poll. The Gallup organization this week announced survey results that should give pause to all who think our nation is making progress in its attitudes about women.
Gallup asked respondents a simple question, “Is pornography morally acceptable?” The findings were devastating. 67% of men between the ages of 18-49 and 43% of all respondents said, “Yes.” This was not “yes” to bikinis or “yes” to nudity of the type seen in Game of Thrones. This was not “Yes” to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or airbrushed poses for Playboy. This is “yes” to explicit sex acts, the most degrading material possible.
It is important to note that the question was not about legality, Gallup did not ask about what should be allowable or tolerated in a free society. They specifically used the word "moral." Morality refers to the rightness of a thing, or to put it another way, to the absence of wrongness in a thing. We have reached the point where two-thirds of young to middle-aged men believe there is nothing at all wrong with them gaining pleasure by watching women perform sexual acts with other men.
What does it say about a nation that celebrates banning modest swimwear on television while at the same time finds it acceptable to broadcast graphic sexual acts over the internet for everyone to see?
It says that America has no sense of morality at all.